Last year, Hutchinson wastewater supervisor Tim Gratke joined city employees in offering tours of city facilities during National Public Works Week. Staff hoped to offer tours again this year May 17-23, but were unable to due to social distancing.

Hutchinson’s wastewater treatment facility has joined a group of more than 50 cities, sanitary districts and public utilities commissions in rural Minnesota to support researchers from the University of Minnesota.

The group, all members of the Minnesota Environmental Science and Economic Review Board, is helping the university study the prevalence of COVID-19 in wastewater. The initiative, led by Dr. Glenn Simmons Jr. and Dr. Richard Melvin of the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the U of M Medical School’s Duluth campus, will collect and test water samples. The research may shed light on the prevalence and spread of the virus in communities and regions across Minnesota.

“Hutchinson Wastewater Treatment Facility is an active party in this study and will be sending samples of this community’s wastewater to the university once a week for the next several months,” said Tim Gratke, Hutchinson’s wastewater supervisor. “This research should not only help us combat the present COVID-19 outbreak, but help scientists better understand how these viruses affect our population in case something similar should happen in the future.”

Wastewater samples are expected to be collected and tested over the next several months. Information gleaned from the study will be shared with the Minnesota Department of Health and the broader scientific community to assist health care professionals and government leaders as they develop testing and mitigation strategies in the ongoing fight against the disease.

“Our wastewater facilities serve thousands of Minnesotans every day, all of whom are affected by this crisis,” MESERB President Andy Bradshaw said. “We want to do our part to ensure that the information necessary to combat this virus is brought to light.”

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